Wait for information about Lopez Island hunting fatality nears an end  - Salish Current
March 5, 2024
Wait for information about Lopez Island hunting fatality nears an end 
Nancy DeVaux

Details about a November hunting accident that took the life of one person are expected to be released this week (March 7) by San Juan County; a hunter sits in waiting at the edge of a forest, in a Bureau of Land Management photo.

March 5, 2024
Wait for information about Lopez Island hunting fatality nears an end 
Nancy DeVaux

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Why does it takes so long for a local community to find out the who, how and why of a hunting fatality?

The lengthy span has even tested the patience of county commissioner Jane Fuller, who wants information on behalf of her Lopez Island constituents.

A person died after a hunting accident on Chadwick Hill on Lopez Island, which is within the stewardship of the San Juan Islands National Conservation Monument, on Nov. 18, 2023. The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office responded, and led the investigation. 

Three weeks later, on Dec. 7, the sheriff’s office issued a statement saying they “would like to acknowledge the community’s questions and continued interest in the Nov. 18 hunting accident on Lopez Island. This is still an active investigation and the sheriff’s office is waiting to receive the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) portion of the investigation. At this time, the sheriff’s office cannot disseminate details of an ongoing investigation.”

Three more weeks later, on Dec. 27, San Juan County issued a news release stating the investigation was complete and it concluded that no crime had been committed. The name of the victim was not released.

In the press release, the sheriff described the involvement of their department and said that “deputies, detectives, and command staff worked late into the night [of Nov. 18] during the initial response.” 

The next day, the release said, “a detective and two members of the command staff, with assistance of Snohomish County deputies at the Marble Falls Station, conducted thorough interviews with the other hunter involved and his brother who were cooperative with law enforcement.”

As part of the investigation, San Juan County Sheriff’s Office, along with WDFW, returned to the scene on Nov. 21 and conducted a re-creation of the scene. 

Native black-tail deer proliferate throughout San Juan County. (Nancy DeVaux / Salish Current © 2024)

They determined that the shooter would not have been able to see the victim when the shot was fired, and that there was “not sufficient evidence to support a ‘gross deviation’ from a reasonable person standard or negligence on the part of the shooter.”

Sheriff Eric Peter said in the Dec. 27 news release, “After receiving all of the reports and information from the assisting agencies, the determination was made final that this was a tragic accident and there was no probable cause that a crime was committed. On Dec. 26, 2023, two members from the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office met in person with the victim’s family to share the results of the investigation.”

The county’s news release on Dec. 17 did not release the name of the victim nor any additional details.

At the Feb.27 meeting of the county council, Fuller brought up the hunting accident after Peter’s report on his department’s 2023 work. 

Fuller said she was flagging the issue because, “We are going to have an agency meeting to discuss the dangers around hunting that have been experienced on Lopez.” 

“There’s still a sentiment in the community that not enough information was shared about what happened,” she said.  

The Salish Current has sought but been blocked from obtaining more information, including information about the victim. 

In December, the Current asked conservation monument manager Brie Chartier for a copy of an official report but was told she was unable to release any information because the Bureau of Land Management was not the lead agency on the investigation. 

The Current reported that, during the Dec. 7 meeting of the Monument Advisory Committee, unofficial reports said there were many hunters — 25 to 30 — in the area that day.

The Current emailed a request for information on Feb. 16  to WDFW and was told a response would be available by April 19. On Feb. 21, the Current was informed that San Juan County was the lead agency and filed a public information request; the county said the information should be available by March 7.

Regarding an interagency meeting, Peters responded that he would be glad to participate, to discuss what needs to be done in terms of preventative and safety measures.

— Reported by Nancy DeVaux

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